Supreme Court burns religious right

The Supreme Court's split decision on the Ten Commandments will surely turn up the heat on future court vacancies.

Published June 28, 2005 12:31AM (EDT)

Two 5-4 decisions Monday by the Supreme Court, one in favor of religious displays on government property and one against, left Christian conservative leaders understandably vexed. The court ruled to allow the Ten Commandments to remain on a granite monument outside the Texas Capitol, but ruled against framed copies of the commandments inside two Kentucky courthouses.

The rulings, which essentially mean future decisions along these lines will be decided on a case-by-case basis, led Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, to underscore the importance of nominating "a strict constitutionalist to the Bench if there is a possible resignation from a current Justice."

In a statement released on the council's Web site, Perkins charged that "forbidding the Ten Commandments opens the door to hostility toward religion," though we always thought that argument went the other way around. Steve Crampton, chief counsel at the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy, said the Supreme Court is guilty of "arbitrarily setting social policy for the entire country."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration disagreed with the Kentucky decision, but abided by the ruling. "We respect the court's decision," McClellan said.

In a typically high-handed and swashbuckling dissent to the Kentucky opinion (McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky.), Justice Antonin Scalia refuted the idea that the Constitution is not imbued with Christian values. "Those who wrote the Constitution believed that morality was essential to the well-being of society and that encouragement of religion was the best way to foster morality," Scalia wrote.

It seems clear that, given their narrowness and imprecision, Monday's rulings will serve to increase the pressure fundamentalist Christians put on President Bush when Chief Justice William Rehnquist, or Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, retires. The question is how the Democrats will respond.

By Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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